Creative Leadership

Why Nepotism Can Hurt Organizations

I started to call this “Why Nepotism Kills Organization” because I feel so strongly about it.  First, let me get this out of the way:  Everyone wants to hire their family.  Especially in a small, close knit operation – or a family business – it’s completely natural.  There’s nothing wrong with the desire to help your own family out in the business.  There’s nothing I would like better than to be able to help my own children through my work.

Now I say that with the understanding that the family member carries his or her weight and is right for the job.  When it doesn’t happen, that’s the problem with nepotism.  As the organization grows, relatives who can’t keep up, don’t pull their weight, are incompetent, or take advantage of the situation hurt your organization far more than you realize.

In media ministries, you see it when a relative is featured singing on a program – only the person doesn’t have a shred of talent.  The partners clap, but your employees are biting their lip.  It’s also interesting that children become heads of departments – and usually the exciting departments.  I rarely see a pastor’s kid head up the Intercession Ministry, but they do seem to gravitate to the Media Ministry.

It can be a tough call, so as you look over your church, ministry, non-profit, or company, here are some checks and balances to keep in mind:

1)  Wanting to bring a family member into the company is understood. Unless your employees are complete jerks, they understand the desire of a leader to help a family member.  Hey – we don’t live in a perfect world, and nothing’s fair.  Besides, you’ve given you blood, sweat, and tears into building the organization, and you have every right to share that with your family.

2)  But if that family member isn’t qualified, it can reek havoc. Believe me, everyone in your organization knows they’re only there because they’re related to someone, so the resentment starts to build – even with the best people.

3)  When that happens – it doesn’t help your relative. You may think giving your brother in law the VP position is good for him.  But if it’s out of his skill set, then he’s headed for trouble.  One VP of a major ministry sat in my office in tears.  He knew he was over his head, but this father had pressured him to take the position.  He hated the job.  He hated himself.  He resented his father.  Not good.  Do him or her a favor and make sure they’re cut out for the job first.

4)  Also – when a relative is incompetent, it’s unfair because it gives them a false sense of success. First – who’s going to reprimand him?  After all, his or her father is the head of the organization.  So the kid never gets corrected or challenged.  Second – you can’t evaluate him accurately, because he’s your child.  So they go through their career thinking they’re brilliant, when it fact, their subordinates and peers think they’re a joke.

5)  Don’t live in a fantasy. I know pastors or business executives who have children in positions of authority.  They would argue that those children are respected within the organization, people aren’t afraid to challenge their decisions, and they are thriving.  But I know (and the employees know) the exact opposite is true.

6)  Start them at the bottom. There’s always been a great story in Hollywood that when a legendary talk show host  brought his son into the company, he didn’t start him out in management.  He started him out in the painting department as a set painter.  That generated so much respect both for the host and his son, that story is still being talking about.  Show everyone in the company that your child is willing to work and to prove himself.  He’ll earn far more respect and admiration.

Am I against hiring your family?  Absolutely not.  I realize it’s a natural desire, plus, the fact is there are awkward situations that sometimes make it difficult not to.  Plus, some families are brilliant.  Who would doubt Joel Osteen taking over his father’s Lakewood Church?  Dan Meyer, CEO of Joyce Meyer Ministries, has done a brilliant job.  There are great success stories of children and other relatives taking organizations to the next level.

But I am against hiring an incompetent or inexperienced family member – particularly vaulting them over more experienced, loyal, hard-working, competent employees.  When you do that, it sows seeds of strife, distrust, and frustration that can completely shut down the momentum of an organization.

Be sensitive. Be careful. Do the right thing. Even if it hurts.

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  1. Have you ever told a parent that "little Johnny" had bitten someone on the playground?  Or told a lie to a teacher?

    Too often, the parent reacts by coming to the defense of the child.  The truth is not the issue, "protecting" their child is.

    It gets worse when the playground is a ministry, and "little Johnny" has been given an office of authority unearned.  Talented people are a threat, and are soon gone.  Others live in fear of what will happen if they cross the new boss.

    But as long as ministries are run by their founders as though they "own" the ministry, this will happen. 

    1. I have worked in a church for many years and have seen the favouritism. I know speaking out wont make any impact and my voice will be drowned out by their own desires to have what they wish. I seen other employees try and end up leaving. Any advice on how to deal with my anger and frustration… Trying not to sin in my anger and seeking Gods peace in the midst of it all. It happens to affect others more than me and it that makes me angry more so. Please help me come to terms with the injustice of it all.

      1. Thats a great question, and it often depends on the particular situation. I believe people generally should “Go where they are celebrated, not where they are tolerated.” If you’re in a difficult position there, perhaps it’s time to move somewhere else. Dealing with nepotism, chances are, things won’t change. So it’s often easier for you to make the move.

  2. I like your ideas Phil. To me the one that starts it all is the last one. Start them on the bottom. The only way to tell whether competence will be an issue as well as servanthood is by doing this. Otherwise, you can have an incompetent arrogant twit leading the company or ministry. And that spells disaster!

  3. To me, nepotism within ministry demonstrates the greater problem of self-interest over actual service to the church. And considering how attitudes flow from the top-down, you are opening the door to many more problems when staff follows..

  4. I usually find your comments quite insightful, but must take exception to this one on nepotism.  Your entire premise that this is a "given" , but just make sure that you start them at the bottom does not begin to address the pervasive problem of entitlement and birthright that is running rampant in the Church.  Just because your father or mother or some other relative had a vision for ministry does not mean that you do.  Most of these ministries were started with non-relatives, using  their money, talent, sweat and tears to help it grow.  But when your relatives come of age (since most of them were children when the ministry started), it is assumed that if there is a leadership position open that they will get it? Regardless of their abilities or qualifications for the job?  Then you walk them through the job and give them resources to learn that you would never make available to non-relatives in that same position?  Non-relatives are needed only as worker bees, while relatives are groomed to be queen-bees or "king" bees. We're talking ministry here – not private, family businesses. 

    If a "minister" wants to help relatives, there are countless for-profit ventures they can enter into without compromising the expressed purpose of the ministry by becoming self-serving and self preserving. Send them to school – on your dime.  Better yet, send them somewhere to learn what their gifts are independent of you.  Maybe then they will choose to come back with a greater understanding of how God wants to use them in life and not just in "daddy's church" or "momma's ministry". 

    Please keep it real Phil and delve beneath surface discussions – or don't address it at all.    


  5. I'm a parent now.  Every time I read 1 Samuel I ponder the character and choices of Eli carefully.  To the best of my understanding, Eli was a good man.  Hannah entrusted Samuel to the priest, and it seems he cared for and guided the very young child well.  Yet Eli's own sons were dreadful.  Their flippant disregard for God gave grievous offense.  They were punished for their transgressions, and Eli was punished as well for failing to correct them. 

    I often wonder, "Why were Hophni and Phinehas so bad?  Did Eli indulge them too much or too little when they were young?  Did his wife?  What went wrong?  Did Eli get something right in his training of Samuel that he didn't get right with his own sons?  We don't know.  What we do know is that Eli let them get away with contempt  for God, the offerings, and the people of God who came to make those offerings.  That resulted in God's wrath coming down on all three men.

    Nepotism is scary stuff.  If we put ourselves in that position, we're placing ourselves in a situation Eli failed to handle to God's satisfaction.  Elii was a pretty good guy.  What makes us so sure we can do better?

    I'm typing without reading glasses again.  Do I dare post this?  Hope it's OK!  Sorry if it isn't!

  6. The assumed trade-off between competancy and commitment is one of those enigmatic aspects of Church culture I still cant get my mind around.

    Its really sad. It holds the church back. Its plain stupid. 

    If someone is called, they should be committed. If they are committed, then they should  do whatever they can to get the skills they need.

    So… if they haven't got the skills, it makes you wonder… are they committed? 

  7. I don't mean to sound rude, but Eyes on the Prize has certainly not had his/her eyes on the church world.

    I've been involved in several churches over the course of my career, and, sad to say, nepotism was a part of all but a couple (the one I am currently employed with).

    I watched a rather well-known pastor fire a guitarist because his son wanted to play guitar (before he was any good). Then he fired the youth worship leader when that same son wanted to lead worship (he couldn't really sing, and NEVER talked about worship music, only British rock bands). After I had moved from hat city, I heard that the pastor fired the media director, and appointed guess-who as his "Creative Services Director." Lastly, when junior wanted to be youth pastor, guess who's neck was on the chopping block?

    I was in Bible college with the school's chancellor's son.  We had a class together. He contradicted the teacher on every point, and actually walked out of class a couple of times. The ministry went through a crisis, and he never came to class after that. Did he withdraw? Did he get an "F?" Nope. He got a better grade than I did.

    I worked at a well-known TV ministry/Christian liberal arts college for 5 years. I watched the president's kids tear the place apart, with no personal responsibility taken by the family. They simply had ministry employees fix the problem. When their oldest daughter wanted her friends to go to her school, her mom got them full-ride scholarships, even though the friends didn't have the necessary SAT scores to even make it into the selective-admissions school in the first place.

    And then there was the time I wasn't allowed to play bass in church because "electric bass is too worldly of an instrument," yet the pastor's grand-nephew was allowed to play drum set.

    What I love about this blog is that Phil DOES keep it real, in a tactful, respectful, yet pull-no-punches way. That is, for those of us who can see the difference.

  8. Phil, Phil, Phil…I simply cannot surpass Truett Hancock's comment: "Preach!"…it must be that California sushi or something that causes such eye-opening wisdom to pour forth from you…whatever it is, it sure is working…be bolder yet, my friend… 

  9. And I thought this just happens in Africa! Nepotism in US ministries? The more I see articles like this from nationalities other than African more I have come discover that human beings at an intrinsic basic level are just the same – we just say it and do it differently.

  10. Nepotisim is more culturally accepted in Africa but it obviously is not exclusive.

    America has a more cultural more against aristrocratic heirarchy.  There are notable exceptions though and it seems especially prevelent in ministries that are built strongly on the gifts, personality and notariaty of a first generation ministry leader.  The idea seems to be that Junior has the best chance of carrying on the ministry with the same name, gifts etc.

    Maybe. Maybe not.

  11. In this same vein and since I know other threads have been following things happening with Kenneth Copeland Ministries, here's a recent article that raises more questions about these types of issue.

    I wasn't aware that Kenneth Copeland had veto power over any board decision.  I aaume this article, although clearly carrying a negative bias, is correct on the facts, if not the interpretation.

    Might be worth looking more into.

  12. The Grassley “investigation” is wearing thin and running out of steam. The nepotism ploy is just the latest absurdity. Retort on this is building – from the public, supporters, ministries totally unconnected with the WOF message and even within his own party.


    Anyone else wonder about the status of those two who have divvied up their records en toto? Mr. Grassley’s got what he said he wanted from them. So, what’s the result? The IRS turns this around in a few months. He’s stalled with the ball in his court now. Why? Verdict please. Innocent or guilty? Cleared or smeared? Either produce the mud or dry up. Instead, they are left dangling on the media circus wire.


    Judicial/investigative process in the US is expected to give a ruling, especially when the media spotlight has been drawn to it. It is no wonder some of the group have chosen not to be drawn into the show. We now see it has made little difference whether you complied or not. Everyone is still left in that cage Mr. Grassley shoved them in with everyone gawking and poking at them. The holdouts were right.

  13. Some have related their bad experiences with ministry nepotism.  That does not mean it happens like that in every ministry.  I lived in the DFW area for six years, met people who worked at the Copeland ministry.  They have a lot of long-time workers there who are not family. The people I met were satisfied and had respect for the leaders and their work. Just because there are a lot of family members in an organization does not mean there is preferential treatment or lack of qualification.  I think some can handle it appropriately. I can understand someone as beleagured as KC wanting loyal faces around. The family members I've seen on his daily program have substance to them. It appears in this case that the relatives are strong contributors rather than just being helped out. I think it appropriate for someone who built a work to want it carrried on with same vision.  

  14. Nepotism has no place in the Church at all it does not matter if it is a success. The church then becomes a business no different then other business except they sell GODs word and are trying to make their business more lucrative, calling people tithing units, using secular advice on wall street on how to get more people in to you business (church) therefore, don’t preach about sin, or end times, or a narrow way, people don’t like that it makes churches shrink!!!. This is not what church is all about it is about preaching his word. Do you think Jeremiah or Isaiah or Noah were popular no they were not but with GOD they were! But nepotism is a horrible thing in the church one key word—- favoritism– within the family I went to a church for years and saw how it ran it took me awhile to see the politicks and understand. when he put his son as asst. pastor I sat back and defended him saying I know the pastor would not just put him their because it is his son I know he prayed about it and sought the LORD in this matter. well his son went off to another state fully provided for by dad from our church our tithes supported him fully he got a nice church and is now preaching over their. I know other people sent off from our church to open other ones, received no such help, and to this day struggle… but his son has no need at all, ridding the coat tails of his father. as his father led him and prepped him to lucrative avenues even saying he got his bachelors degree in theology at the school I know he did not!! he went to some classes but not enough to fulfill his degree but when your dad is in charge that is all that is needed when he left his other son took over the asst. pastor position I could not believe it. Now I love them all, they are good people but the gift has rendered them blind they are using the ministry as a inheritance it might as well be in the will and the church people are part of that will this is how the catholic church acted in the middle ages and yet they preach against Catholics and yet do the same thing. They preach against the purpose driven church and rightly so, which I wont get into here, calling them selves spirit led never driven yet they are not spirit led they are family led. Jesus said if you LOVE son or daughter more then me you are not worthy of me. favoritism is all over the new testament need I bring all the scriptures well James will be enough Jas 2:3 And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool:
    Jas 2:4 Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts? This is broader then money the idea is favoritism. To this date I have not found a church and feal really tainted as to why and what is happening to the church is a abomination don’t ever go to a church where it is family run!! and also ask where did your pator come from is he in that position because his daddy pulled some strings. The calling of a pastor is led of the spirit not of dynasty or kings or queens and that is what it becomes and let me tell you for fact it becomes like the mafia you don’t speak against the family or you are
    O-U-T OUT and will be banned from coming to the church and they will put together some scriptures calling you a wolf trying to go against the church and separate people

    1. I am with rush and eyes on the prize on this one; the ministry is not a dynasty, it is a calling to serve. All parents want their children to do well and be successful. people can become enamored with the idea of their children following in their footsteps. Can you imagine how much stronger these two desires would be in someone who is spreading the words of Christ and bringing the message of grace to the lost. Wow, the TEMPTATION to misuse that power would be almost unbearable to resist. The ability to refuse placing someone you love as family in a position where they may be held in high regard in both the worlds of God and Man, and be financially successful requires more restraint than any man can be trusted to exercise. For this reason a pastor should not HIRE his family. If his family has a calling there are many, many avenues of service they can take with Jesus in their hearts and ultimately be in GREATER service than to simply hold a monopoly at the local church.

  15. I have worked for a ministry for 18 years and am becoming disillusioned with the nepotism that is evident to all.  I have the same title as the pastor/director’s wife but not nearly the same privileges.  I agree with Phil that it is very hard not to have resentment when everyone comments on the favoritism and the unfairness.  

  16. I am so glad that I came across this article. This is exactly what I am dealing with in my current situation and I have been having the hardest time dealing with the situation. In the past week it has gone from bad to worse since I have spoken out on some of the issues. Seems that I have now been singled out and more demands have been put on me. It feels like they are making moves and trying to force me to quit! The morale is down, the tension in the office is up and there is definitely a shift within the organization. The sad thing is there are faithful people who love the organization and that made many many sacrifices to aid with the success of the ministry… And now those very same people are being driven away and sacrificed for the sake of family who’s only vested interest is money. They are not ministry minded only money minded and it sickens me.

    1. I”m reminded of the old saying, “Go where you are celebrated, not where you are tolerated.” Maybe this is God moving you on to something far better…

  17. I was the only member to formally object when the pastor placed his troubled adult daughter on the church board. His daughter had separated from her husband, but was trying to get back together with him. She was having serious problems at work and had received a warning letter. She was living in the parsonage with her father, the pastor and her mother (pastor’s wife). The church got rid of its choir and replaced it with a praise band…. you guessed it…. the pastor’s daughter and her daughter sang leads and her friends backed her up. The church other people with fine voices suitable for soloing on more traditional hymns…. it also had classically trained musicians who were willing to occasionally prepare worship music. The pastor and his wife said NO to that…. In having his daughter serve as a voting elder (a church board member), the pastor endangered the 501(c)3 status of the church. From a Biblical perspective, she was not qualified to be an elder. When I told the pastor that what he was about to do was immoral, unethical and quite possibly illegal, he assaulted me. I did the right thing–leave. I had to leave many friends behind. I formally complained to the district and the denomination–because the pastor is an church official at the district level. I sincerely hope and pray that that pastor is placed on an unpaid leave of absence and is required to get a psychological / psychiatric evaluation by someone who is trained to perform a fitness for duty evaluation of pastors who have have made serious moral or ethical blunders.

    I think pastors need to be extremely careful. If your family member is right for the job, he or she should be able to prove that he or she has the ‘right stuff’ somewhere else. I have no problems if a pastor hires a family member who has proven himself or herself to be competent to fill the open position. The pastor needs to realize that this can create serious morale problems, especially if an insider had been working hard for a promotion to the position in question and is a stronger candidate than the pastor’s relative.

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